Universal Kids
Second Universal Kids logo used since 2019
CountryUnited States
Broadcast areaNationwide
Headquarters30 Rockefeller Plaza, New York City, New York, U.S.
Programming
Language(s)English
Spanish (via SAP audio track)
Picture format1080i HDTV
(downscaled to letterboxed 480i for the SDTV feed)
Ownership
OwnerPBS (2005–2013)
Sesame Workshop (2005–2013)
HIT Entertainment (2005–2013)
Apax Partners (2005–2012)
Mattel (2012-2013)
NBCUniversal (Comcast)
ParentNBCUniversal Media Group
Sister channels
History
LaunchedSeptember 26, 2005; 18 years ago (2005-09-26)
ReplacedPBS Kids Channel (original incarnation from 1999-2005)
Former names
  • PBS Kids Sprout (September 26, 2005–November 12, 2013)
  • Sprout (September 21, 2009–September 9, 2017)
Links
Websitewww.universalkids.com
Availability
Streaming media
Streaming ServicesFuboTV, YouTube TV, Hulu with Live TV, DirecTV Stream
ClaroTV+
(requires subscription to access content)

Universal Kids is an American children's television channel owned by the NBCUniversal Media Group division of NBCUniversal, which is a wholly owned subsidiary of Comcast.

The channel launched on September 26, 2005, as PBS Kids Sprout, a preschool-oriented channel jointly operated by PBS, Comcast, Sesame Workshop, and HIT Entertainment, as an offshoot of the PBS Kids brand. After the acquisition of NBCUniversal by Comcast in 2011, the company began to buy out the remaining owners' shares in the network. NBCUniversal became the sole owner of the network in 2013, after which it was renamed Sprout. Under NBCUniversal ownership, the channel increased its investments into original programming.

In 2017, the network relaunched as Universal Kids, adding an evening and primetime lineup targeting a wider youth audience—including DreamWorks Animation content, non-scripted programming (including game shows, and youth spin-offs of reality series from its NBCUniversal sister networks, such as American Ninja Warrior and Top Chef), and acquired teen dramas. The channel continues to devote its daytime lineup to preschool programming.

Amid declines in viewership in comparison to Sprout, Universal Kids ended its development of new original programming in 2019, with the channel now relying primarily on acquisitions and DreamWorks Animation content (drawn primarily from the series they had originally produced for Netflix). Its remaining first-run programming moved to NBCUniversal's streaming service Peacock.

As of September 2018, the channel is available to about 56.240 million households in the United States.[1]

History

As PBS Kids Sprout/Sprout (2005–2018)

Development and launch

Former logo for the network from its debut until September 2017; the "PBS Kids" logo element within the green 'sprout' was removed after PBS sold its interest in the network.
Sprout logo without the "PBS Kids" Branding

Following the failure of PBS's original 24-hour PBS Kids Channel launched in 1999, on October 20, 2004 (just a little over a week after the launch of PBS Kids Go!), PBS announced that it had entered into a partnership with cable provider Comcast and production companies HIT Entertainment and Sesame Workshop to launch a 24-hour cable network aimed at preschool children.[2] Created to “strengthen the competitive positions” of all of the parties, PBS Vice-President of digital ventures Deron Triff noted that the content would be “consistent with PBS’s values” and “meet certain curricular objectives and have been tested for educational efficacy.”[3] On April 4, 2005, Comcast announced that the network would be known as PBS Kids Sprout—a spin-off from PBS's children's programming brand PBS Kids. The service would soft launch as a branded video on-demand (VOD) service that same day.[4] PBS Kids Sprout launched its 24-hour cable channel on September 26, 2005, effectively replacing the original 24-hour PBS Kids Channel. At launch, PBS Kids Sprout reached around 16 million viewers across the Comcast and Insight cable systems.[4]

The multi-platform approach was designed to appeal to different viewing habits; the Sprout channel featured dayparted programming blocks, with hosted segments such as activities, features, and promotions for supplemental content on Sprout's website.[4] To increase the variety of its schedule, Sprout did not repackage short-form series into half-hour episodes with interstitial segments, as had usually been the case for series imported for U.S. broadcast.[4] Unlike PBS Kids, PBS Kids Go!, and the main PBS network respectively, all of which operated as non-commercial services, PBS Kids Sprout operated as an advertiser-supported service running traditional television commercials. However, advertising on the channel was only carried between programs in small quantities and were aimed towards parents and caregivers.[4]

In spring 2009, it was announced that The Wiggles would be moving to PBS Kids Sprout from its previous broadcaster, Playhouse Disney. This would coincide with the launch of a new programming block hosted by the group called Sprout's Wiggly Waffle. The reason for this move was due to competition from the Imagination Movers, a children's music group from New Orleans who received their own TV show in September 2008. The move took effect on August 24, 2009.[5]

A high-definition simulcast of the network launched in September 2010.[6]

Acquisition by Comcast/NBCUniversal

Comcast acquired a 51% majority stake in NBC Universal from General Electric on January 28, 2011, and would assume full ownership of the company in 2013. As a result, Comcast's interest in Sprout was turned over to the company.[7] Apax Partners sold HIT Entertainment to Mattel on October 24, 2011, the sale did not include HIT's stake in Sprout, which was retained by Apax.[8] In December 2012, Sesame Workshop sold its interest in Sprout to Comcast. On March 19, 2013, Comcast acquired the remaining 49% of NBCUniversal it did not already own,[9] and concurrently acquired Apax's stake in Sprout.[10] Comcast then acquired PBS's share in Sprout on November 13, 2013, giving it full ownership. As a result, the network's operations were brought under the NBCUniversal Cable Entertainment Group, and the "PBS Kids" branding was removed (thus officially shortening its name to "Sprout"). The network's operations were later moved from Philadelphia to NBCUniversal's facilities in New York City.[11][12][13][14][10]

Whilst all these complex business arrangements were taking place, on July 7, 2012, Sprout began to produce educational programming blocks for NBC and Telemundo, branded as "NBC Kids" and "MiTelemundo" respectively.[15][16] Both of these blocks replaced Qubo (a previous joint venture between NBCUniversal, Ion Media, Corus Entertainment, Scholastic, and Classic Media),[17] which had been airing on NBC and Telemundo since September 2006, but continued to air via a third programming block on Ion Television as well as a separate 24-hour network known as Qubo Channel until that brand's full discontinuation in February 2021.[18] NBC Kids was discontinued on September 25, 2016 (one day before Sprout's eleventh anniversary) and was replaced by "The More You Know", a block produced by Litton Entertainment that would feature live-action documentary and lifestyle programs aimed at pre-teens and teenagers.[19] However, MiTelemundo continued to air with its existing programming until January 6, 2018, when the block became programmed by Litton as well, retaining the "MiTelemundo" name.[20][21]

Under NBCUniversal ownership, Sprout began to increase its investments in original programming to better compete with Disney Junior and the Nick Jr. Channel, with a goal to double its original series output to at least 30% of its schedule by the end of 2015, and displace older and non-exclusive library content in favor of original series and acquisitions exclusive to the channel.[22][23] Sprout programs such as The Chica Show also earned increased visibility airing on NBC as part of the NBC Kids block.[24][23]

On September 26, 2015, Sprout underwent a brand refresh to mark the tenth anniversary of its launch, with new on-air imaging inspired by modern technology and mobile devices, a new tiny house-inspired studio at 30 Rockefeller Plaza for its hosted morning block The Sunny Side Up Show, as well as the premiere of Nina's Worldan original animated series spun off from its evening block The Good Night Show.[22] Actress Alyssa Milano began to make appearances in interstitial segments as Sprout's "Mom-bassador", with a particular focus on the channel's public service campaign "Kindness Counts".[22] By this point, nearly all shows inherited from PBS's library were dropped from Sprout's lineup. Over a year later, the 24-hour PBS Kids Channel (which Sprout had replaced back in 2005) was revived by PBS as a digital multicast network on January 16, 2017.

The network's head Sandy Wax stated that Sprout also planned to experiment with more half-hour programs, and commission programming with more "complex stories" that can appeal better to older preschool audiences.[22]

As Universal Kids (2017–present)

The network's first iteration of the Universal Kids logo, used from September 9, 2017 to April 11, 2019.

In August 2016, NBCUniversal acquired DreamWorks Animation.[25][26] Deirdre Brennan, formerly of Canadian media company Corus Entertainment, was named the new president of Sprout in January 2017, replacing the outgoing Sandy Wax.[27]

On May 1, 2017, NBCUniversal announced that it would be relaunching Sprout on September 9, 2017, as Universal Kids; the relaunched network aimed to be "an umbrella brand for [NBCUniversal's] family offerings".[28] Universal Kids would introduce primetime programming targeting a wider youth and pre-teen audience, while still carrying preschool programming as a block under the Sprout branding from 3 a.m. to 6 p.m. ET daily.[29][30] Brennan explained that Sprout needed to "grow up with the rest of the family", and that Universal Kids would "[offer] something to 2 to 12 year olds that has a slightly different purpose—widening their eyes, opening their minds and celebrating many aspects of being a kid."[31]

The network would launch with a slate of original non-scripted series, including Bear Grylls: Survival School and Top Chef Junior. NBCUniversal intended to make "significant" investments in original content for Universal Kids over the next three years, including original scripted programming.[31] The launch lineup included a large number of international acquisitions, particularly from the U.K., Australia, and Canada (such as The Next Step and Nowhere Boys); Brennan acknowledged that since youth audiences had become "globally aware", the network wanted to showcase foreign series that had not yet aired in the United States.[31] Universal Kids would also feature programing produced by Canadian studio DHX Media for Family Channel and its sister networks, as well as co-produce series with the company (such as the sitcom Bajillionaires);[32][33][34] DHX had recently entered into a programming agreement with DreamWorks Animation for its networks.[35]

DreamWorks would be leveraged by Universal Kids to bolster its programming, with linear television premieres of DreamWorks' Netflix series such as All Hail King Julien and Dragons: Riders of Berk as part of its launch lineup.[36][30][31] Industry observers felt that the integration of DreamWorks IP with Universal Kids would help NBCUniversal establish a viable multi-platform competitor to other major children's networks.[37][29][38][36][39] The network planned to continue investing in preschool programming for the Sprout block; Brennan stated of Sprout that "the greatest thing is, there is nothing to fix there. Sprout is a beautiful brand. If anything, we want to invest more in original production. There is more we can explore there."[31]

Universal Kids saw a significant decrease in viewership in comparison to its previous incarnation as Sprout, with IndieWire reporting a 30% decline in 2017, followed by a 73% drop in 2018.[40][41] Brennan was replaced by Frances Berwick as network president in February 2019.[42] In April of that year, Universal Kids unveiled a new logo and branding designed by the design agency Kill 2 Birds.[43] On June 19, it was reported that Universal Kids had ceased the development of original programming, and had laid off its development staff or transferred them to other NBCUniversal properties. Thereafter, the channel would rely primarily on DreamWorks content, acquisitions, and its remaining slate of original programming.[44][45] Some Universal Kids original series, such as American Ninja Warrior Junior, Super Wings and Where's Waldo?, moved to NBCUniversal's new streaming service Peacock.[46][47]

The network has struggled for viewers, though the branding change timed out to a general nadir for traditional cable/satellite channels tailored to children as all networks across the industry have been de-emphasized for their associated streaming services. Based on the latest numbers from Nielsen, in its 2023 year-end viewership list, Variety has the network ranked 137th among 154 cable and broadcast networks.[48]

Programming

Main article: List of programs broadcast by Universal Kids

Currently, the network's most prominent scheduling pattern is marathon 'best-of volume' blocks of one program featuring individual segments aired continuously for 1–3 hours rather than a traditional block of consecutive episodes, emulating the model of the official YouTube channels for prevailing children's series, which either feature a continuous live stream of the series, or an uploaded video several hours in length containing multiple episodes. Traditional marathons of episodes are also scheduled. The scheduling model began in the summer of 2020.

Previously, original programs produced for the network included the Top Chef spin-off Top Chef Junior, the game shows Beat the Clock and The Noise, the bedroom redecoration show Get Out of My Room, and American Ninja Warrior Junior.[49][50] The channel also airs several series produced by DreamWorks Animation (some of which were originally produced for the streaming service Netflix) and has acquired and co-produced programs with international partners.[31] In 2021, the network acquired exclusive television rights to carry content from the popular YouTube channel Cocomelon.

Preschool programming

As PBS Kids Sprout, the channel featured reruns of many preschool shows from the PBS Kids library, like Sesame Street, Dragon Tales, Sagwa, the Chinese Siamese Cat, Teletubbies, Barney & Friends, Thomas & Friends, Angelina Ballerina, Make Way for Noddy and Super Why!. Even with the removal of the "PBS Kids" branding in the channel's name in November 2013 (due to PBS selling its interest in Sprout to NBCUniversal, with Sid the Science Kid being the last PBS show added to Sprout's lineup before the acquisition), many shows from its library continued to air on the network under extended license agreements. By the September 26, 2015 rebrand however, most of PBS's library was dropped from Sprout's lineup. However, two PBS shows that have been on the channel since its launch, Caillou and The Berenstain Bears, continued to air on the network, with the former airing until March 31, 2019, and the latter airing until Sprout's rebranding into Universal Kids. Almost three years after PBS sold its share in Sprout to NBCUniversal, Space Racers (which aired on select PBS stations) was moved to Sprout for its second and final season on October 31, 2016, and continued to air into the Universal Kids rebranding until March 22, 2020. Sometime after the channel rebranded into Universal Kids, Barney & Friends and Bob the Builder both returned to the channel's lineup, with the former airing from December 17, 2018 to January 25, 2020, and the latter airing from April 22, 2019 to July 7 that same year. Both of those aforementioned shows, along with PBS's long-running Curious George (which was produced by Universal Animation Studios, but never aired on either Sprout or Universal Kids) are also made available on NBCUniversal's streaming service Peacock.

After losing the rights to most of PBS's library, yet prior to the Universal Kids rebranding, Sprout continued to premiere new series such as Kody Kapow, joining a slate that was included Dot, Nina's World, and DreamWorks-produced Noddy, Toyland Detective.[29][30] New acquisitions such as Masha and the Bear would premiere on the Sprout block alongside the relaunch.[31]

On August 14, 2017, Sprout replaced its long-running morning block Sunny Side Up with Sprout House (renamed Snug's House in 2018), which is presented by Carly Ciarrocchi and the new character Snug, a talking dog portrayed by puppeteer Chris Palmieri, through 90-second segments throughout the block. The program was designed to be more flexible to produce than its predecessor, with a different "tiny house" set with additional areas and camera options. Unlike Sunny Side Up, the segments are pre-recorded instead of broadcast live; supervising producer Vinny Steves felt that the live format was too "limiting", and explained that the new format was also designed to enable the segments to be distributed on digital platforms such as social media. With the launch of Sprout House, the network began to downplay its longtime mascot, Chica, although she was still featured in certain segments (such as Chica at School) until 2020, when it along with the Sprout House / Snug's House segments were removed from Universal Kids' lineup. However, the channel did briefly air reruns of The Chica Show (a former Sprout original show in which Chica starred in), on May 20, 2019, along with Moon and Me and Mofy, but all of these series stopped airing in that same year and 2021 respectively. However, the former aforementioned show reaired on the network on December 24 and 25, 2022, until it stopped airing on the channel once again, thus putting an end to the network's longtime chicken mascot altogether, and also removing the last vestige of Sprout.[51]

Masha and the Bear left Universal Kids in the US on January 1, 2023, but cable TV providers like Charter Spectrum & DirecTV stated that it's still there, and also streaming services like FuboTV, YouTube TV, Hulu with Live TV, and DirecTV Stream. Masha and the Bear returned to Universal Kids in the US on August 4, 2023, after 7 months of being gone off the air.[52][citation needed]

International

Further information: DreamWorks Channel § Versions, and Sky Kids (TV channel)

As of September 2018, Universal Kids is available to about 56.240 million households in the United States.[1] Universal Kids operates two feeds nationally, one for the east coast and a times delay one for the west coast. DreamWorks Channel serves as the network's worldwide equivalent and Sky Kids for the United Kingdom through Comcast's Sky division.

See also

References

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